The “American ghetto” and the romance of Spain

September 10, 2007

Hola a todos,

Since it has been a week since my last post, I have a lot to cover.  I also realize for the most part that not everyone likes to read long blogs (I’m not sure many people like to read blogs at all, actually), but for my sake, this will be a fairly long blog so that when I come home, at least I can print off my entries and hoard them away like the packrat that I am.  So, you can skim over my heavily belabored paragraphs if you like.  I’m just here typing away.

 Last week before our weekend trips was nothing more than a series of volunteering, studying, going out on the town, and heavy dehydration.  The more I work at La Escuela Infantil, the more I love the children and the staff.  The rules and regulations and such are somewhat different from the states, but in my opinion the children receive better attention here and are less likely to focus on toys.  The older children take care of the younger ones and the staff is gentle but firm.  There is just no yelling here.  I have never heard the teachers fight for the attention of the younger ones.  It is perhaps less sanitary than what I am used to, but I am trying to keep my hands clean and keep the kids clean while I’m there.  We are expected to change their diapers, but we use our laps for a changing table.  This is pretty cumbersome and the kids are squirmy.  I haven’t really mastered that art yet.  They’re not too insistent on hand washing in the mornings.  However, I’m only there a part of the time.  I am absent while the children go into their classes.  Obviously they must learn about good hygiene at some point during the day, because if not, there would be thousands of people around Sevilla not taking care of themselves very well, and that just does not happen.

 I frequently fall in and out of love with Spain.  Right now it is a sweet romance.

I will go ahead and move on to one of the most exhausting weekends of my life.  No kidding.  I will begin with Friday, a 2 hour bus ride to Córdoba to see la Madinat Al-Zahra and La Mezquita.  Madinat was a small community of about 20,000 Omeyans that only lasted about 62 years, from 960 to 1016.  It was home to about 8,000 military personnel and the city was designed as such to defend itself against invaders.  To get to the main city gate from the outside, you have to go down a path that makes a sharp 90· turn.  This was designed to deter invaders on horseback or large troops because they couldn’t make a running start or try to bust the main gate open with anything.  If they got past that, they would enter into a double-entry doorway.  Basically this was a small room where two sets of doors opened up into each other, making it impossible to open the second set of doors without having to close the first set.  Signs of the old door hinges still survive.  On the floor there are small holes called pistil holes (spelling?) where the door hinges used to be.

Rooms here had no designated function.  All the rooms connected one onto the other.  No hallways existed during this time.  Instead, all the rooms would attach to an open air patio.  This room had a drain which allowed rain water to collect in the cistern below the floor.  This is where most of the socializing ocurred, where it was cooler.

There are two water systems in Madinat-the bad water system and the sweet water system.  We had a pretty good view of their underground systems.

Moving on from the bedrooms, we reached a larger room, sort of like a plaza, with famous Arab arches and columns.  This is where soldiers and scribes would hang out during the day.  There would be pillows and rugs all over the floor, and scribes would sit and write, translating.  In the same room they would also eat and eventually sleep.  The roofs were made of wood, but since that is usually the first material to be destroyed, we really have no idea as to what the roofs looked like.  Also, the rooms could only be as wide as a wooden beam would stretch, and that’s why the rooms appear so narrow.

The procession paths were marked by waist-high ledges on either side, where soldiers were made to stand to intimidate diplomats who were coming into the city.

We reached a small mosque below the city.  These are not viewed as churches.  There is no priest, only people who come and study the Koran.  Basic features of a mosque are usually a patio in the entryway, where worshippers come and clean themselves before worship.  For the most part, there are no walls except for the outside four.  Any division ocurring on the inside would be caused by simply columns.  The most important wall is the keeblo (spelling?) wall, which is the one that faces Mecca.  This wall is heavily marked with intricate designs.  (And just a side note that the Cathedral in Sevilla is oriented towards Mecca since it is built on Arab ruins)

The Arabs are very aware of cleanliness.  Their bathing process has three steps:

1) Complete immersion in very hot water to open up the pores

2) A warm water wash

3) A deep massage using olive oil

Sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?  The Roman bathing process is much the same, except instead of a full immersion in hot water, they usually sat around in steam baths or soaked just a little bit of themselves.  In Spain you can still get an ancient Arab or Roman bath if you want, complete with massage, for about 30 €.  I might have to jump on that bandwagon.

Next we entered into the room of the Caliph, Abd Al-Rahman III, whose view extended over some wonderful gardens.  The intricacy of the designs on the wall are made with yesso, which is first put up wet, carved out, and then left to dry.  When it is nearly dry, artisans would follow with paint to color the inside of the cutouts.  Muslims believe that any pictoric representations of man or beast can lead to idolatry, and this is why all of their designs are primarily plants or geometric shapes.  The oldest son of the caliph does not marry until his father dies, but when he does, the son takes on about 5 to 8 wives and has to sleep with all of them the first night.  Out of all the women, the one to bear the first male child that survives is made Queen.  I can imagine what sort of drama this must have created.

Catedral de Córdoba (Antigua Mezquita)

I loved the Madinat for the history and the ruins, but this was my favorite part of Córdoba.  Most people know this, but one of the most interesting things about ancient ruins is that we see evidence of one society literally building on top of another one.  The great Mosque of Córdoba is built on the cemetary of a Visigothic church, which is built on top of Roman homes.  This mosque is absolutely breathtaking, and it seems to go on forever, except for in the middle, where unfortunately Charles V had allowed the construction of a Cathedral.  While the Christians were here, they also covered up some of the open areas with large wooden walls.  Way to go, guys.  I felt like I could not take enough pictures of this place.

Saturday consisted of a morning trip to Itálica and later a tour of the Cathedral in Sevilla.

Itálica was founded in 206 BC and was mainly a retirement center for the military.  Sevilla existed during this time and was populated by the Iberos (I say that because Itálica is about a 10 minute drive from Sevilla.  Super close).  There were two great things about seeing this Roman town: the ampitheater and the grand theater.  The ampitheater, though it was not floodable like some, was designated for sacrificing Christians and housing gladiator fights.  It used to be 3-tiered, holding 20,000 people, but the Visigoths came and destroyed the top tier.  Thanks so much, guys. 

The Romans basically copied the Greeks on this one.  However, the Roman arches were still completely intact in the ampitheater, which I thought was amazing.  In the center there is what looks like a pit, but really the pit would be covered up with sand and such and therefore the pit used to be an underground room.  Really this room was used as a dressing room for the gladiators.  They would hang out there and listen to the crowds and get all nervous and contemplate life and probably say a few prayers to their Roman gods.  I’m really excited about visiting the Archaeological Museum here in Sevilla at some point, because they hold all of the statues and artifacts found at the ampitheater here.  There are some greatly preserved Roman god statues which I’m sure are very pretty.

La Giralda

We returned from Itálica and made our way to the largest gothic cathedral in the world.  This is one of my favorite icons of Sevilla.  It is still used today for Mass, and on Sundays there is a mass every hour.  I have yet to go, but it’s still on my list!  Here are a few great facts about La Giralda:

1) Colombus dies in 1506 and asks to be buried in the New World.  First he was buried in Santa Domingo, but an early 18th century earthquake destroys his resting place.  So they dig him up and move him to Havannah, Cuba.  In the 1870s, they take him back to Sevilla.  In those days, the burial process went as such: they wrapped you in a shroud and placed you in a coffin and let you sit there and disintegrate for about 30 years.  After 30 years, they would unwrap the shroud, push all the bones together and put you in a smaller box.  The box that holds Christopher Colombus’ remains now resides in this Cathedral.    His son is also buried here, in the floor.

2) The Cathedral is literally sinking into the ground.  Archaeologists say that in the next 100 years, it is possible that the sinking foundation will destroy the cieling (and believe me, you dont’ want to lose this cieling).  To make things lighter, right now they are hollowing out all the pillars, which has really lightened the load.

3) The Giralda is Roman on bottom, Arab in the middle, and Christian on top.

Al Kazaar

Next of course, we go to the King’s Palace in Sevilla.  When Royal family comes to visit, this is where they stay.  There are three important parts to this Palace,

1) A room which holds an altar from the 14th/15th century.  This altar was in the church attended by Colombus.  It has a painting of the Virgin of the Mariners, which would explain why he would come to this church and pray for intervention before his voyages.  The cieling in here is incredible.  It’s designed by the Arabs and it’s all intricate woodwork with gold painted onto it.  One thing that really surprises me is that there is no painting of Christopher Colombus when he was alive.  Incredible.  So really we have no idea what he looked like!  Well, maybe that one famous painting comes close, but you never know.

2)  The rooms of Peter the Cruel.  Peter would rule during the 14th century, and he was cruel. He killed all of his family so that they couldn’t contest the throne (except he missed one.  His cousin, who later comes back and takes the throne.  Go figure).  The rooms are decorated by Arabs, who write the Koran in the walls.  If you ever come here, the most important room to see is the Receiving Room.  It’s the one with the incredible cieling and wall to wall preserved Arab decoration.  You can’t miss it.

3) The gardens.  There is a lot to see.

I cannot wait until my Mom gets here.  There is so much more that I learned and I feel like if I have someone else to show it to and explain it to, it will really stick in my mind.  Also, as a sort of fine print note here, all the information I learned and put down here was given to me by the lectures of Dr. Ingliss, who has been the best tour guide alive.  He is definitely a walking encyclopedia, but the other day he said that sugar was a protein, so if something in my blog throws you off, I am more than open to correction from all you history buffs out there.

I am still stuck in my American ghetto, hanging out in groups and speaking more english than I should.  I think everyone, including myself, is a little reluctant to leave the familiar just yet and branch out completely alone.  I am also only one of about 8 people who know how to speak fairly well.  This week my challenge to myself is to go out with Rachel or my tutor and try to make friends with just the two of us, instead of going out with about 5 to 8 people.

I am truly awestruck by communication and the learning of languages.  This is my passion, and I am up to my eyebrows in it right now and I cannot even find the right words to explain how elated I am (ironically enough).  I so take it for granted in my native language.  Common gestures and cue words and laughter, these are things that, once you’re in a foreign land, are all subject to change.  But then you start to accept the transitions, and this is the most beautiful part.  Maybe you haven’t learned them all just yet, but you start recognizing the meanings.  At the ends of questions you can make answers.  You stop smiling awkwardly and you start laughing in all the right places. 


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